A Step In The Right Direction With Teva - Deckers Brands’ Jess Bensley | Convoy

A Step In The Right Direction With Teva – Deckers Brands’ Jess Bensley

Have you ever taken a good hard look at the packaging that comes with a new pair of shoes? Think about it. That new pair of sneakers, pumps, or boots, are invariably stuffed with cardboard, wrapped in tissue, put in a box with some other type of protective packaging, which is then put into a larger box if you are having the shoes shipped to your home. And then you are actually only using the shoes, so everything else is immediately tossed in the garbage or recycling bin. That’s a significant amount of waste going directly into landfills every time you buy a pair of shoes — and for some people — that can be quite frequent!

Jess Bensley, Senior Product Line Manager at Teva, Deckers Brands, a fashion and performance lifestyle footwear company which has earned a global reputation for unparalleled style, quality and comfort, recently sat down with me to talk about the footwear industry and how Teva is working to change all of that waste.

Jess shared how Teva has kicked off an industry first recycling program, gave us a deeper dive into how the company began its sustainability efforts, how it values sustainability, and what’s next for this footwear manufacturer with an incredibly loyal consumer following. Watch the video above or follow along with the summary of her viewpoints below.

  • How Teva Began Its Sustainability Journey: It started about five years ago when the footwear industry had a little bit of an awakening that we were having a negative impact on the earth. Some brands decided to take action and Teva was one of those. We started with packaging. If you’re not sure where to start, packaging is a great place. It goes across industries and there’s so much extra of it. We did a packaging audit and figured out that we could take all the stuff out that wasn’t needed. In shoes, we stuff them, we wrap them, we put tissue paper on them and then put them in a box and then another box and we were able to eliminate a ton of excess there. And by removing that excess and then also switching to recycled materials, we’ve actually saved 348 million gallons of water to the date, which is pretty crazy. (0:49)
  • What kind of an impact they have seen in those five years: We have reduced 4.1 million pounds of packaging. Those numbers are crazy, but that’s what we were able to do with just an internal audit. That was our first big step and then we really looked at what materials we were using the most and where we could make some sustainable updates. If you know Teva, we’re really known for our iconic straps, so we use this webbing for almost all of our shoes and decided to start there. We converted 100% of our iconic straps to recycled plastic. That took us about two years to convert all of it, but in spring of 2020 we were able to launch. We called it Less Plastic, More Freedom and we had converted all of them. That has saved 40 million plastic bottles from landfills. We’re making a lot of shoes and we had the opportunity to make a pretty big impact when we make changes, which has been awesome. The third big step was this recycling program we just launched in April, Teva Forever, and it’s the first recycling program for footwear in the outdoor industry. (1.44) 
  • How Teva Came Up With Its Three Sustainability Pillars: We started off just swimming in a lot of different directions and I’m sure that’s where sustainability comes into a lot of work. We cared a lot and wanted to do a lot. Packaging felt like a natural one and then looking at products is a natural way to address as well. But as we were trying to tackle all these things — and they’re really hard to get focus and know what to talk about — we landed on three pillars. Product is the first of those pillars and this includes everything from materials to construction, to efficiencies in our supply chain, and then again, packaging. And then the second one is circularity. We have this goal moving toward circularity and this means recycled inputs going into our product, this means taking care of our own waste if it’s at the factory or if it’s at the end of life and then really getting this recycling program off the ground was a great first step. But our ultimate goal is to make new Tevas out of old Tevas and that’s where we want to go with the program, but we have some work to get there as well. And then the third pillar is climate. And this is pretty new to us, but we want to know our greenhouse gas emissions, we want to know our carbon footprint, and then we want to see, how can we reduce that and then how can we offset the impact that we are having? So, climate is the new pillar and something you’ll see us working toward even more in the future. (3:43) 
  • How Sustainability Fits Across The Teva Organization: The product is really ground zero for sustainability. There’s a lot of improvements you can make whether it be materials or supply chain or construction, there’s a lot you can do to make improvements. And as a leader in the product organization, I’ve just made this one of my top priorities and I’ve learned a lot being in the industry for a while. I’ve taken some great courses as well to become even more knowledgeable. But that’s really helped set the standards, set the goals for where we’re going as an organization. And our team is super like-minded and we challenge each other to do better. Whenever a project is coming up, we ask how we can make this less impactful? What materials can we use? It’s really a group dynamic to see how we can make the planet a better place. We are part of a bigger corporation — Deckers Outdoor Corp — and they really set the standards as far as what our overarching goals are going to be and then Teva identifies where these goals align with our values and align with our consumers’ values. And when we see those two intersect, that is usually a great way to figure out what we should tackle next because as you know, there’s a lot of different things to tackle when it comes to sustainability. (5:37) 
  • How Teva Forever Is Getting The Company Closer to Circularity: It’s a recycling program but even bigger than that, it’s a way for us to engage with our consumers. We don’t have the Tevas anymore. They’re out in the world, and that’s a great way for us to partner with consumers to get them back on a sustainability journey. None of us can do this on our own. We all need to do this together and the good news is our consumer really cares. They want to make the planet better and they’re actually demanding this from us. One very early vetting of this idea was doing a recycling program. We were like, ‘Okay, this is going to be a lot. Let’s touch base with our consumers.’ So, we put out an Instagram survey and then a few this or that to click into the story to do a full sustainability survey. And, first off, we had thousands of responses. So, the fact that our consumers took the time to do up close, our sustainability survey, I was like, ‘Wow. They’re super engaged.’ And 94 percent told us they wanted to recycle their Tevas. So that was a great number that came out of that. And then we also had a blank box, where you could just sort of fill in around sustainability and what you wanted to take care of and the number one word that came up was waste. They were concerned about our waste and where products were going to be at the end of life and end of life was another word that came up time and time again specifically calling out a recycling program. So, between knowing that those were very high on our consumers’ radar and they were high on our radar, we knew that we were on the right path. Then we started vetting possible partners and trying to figure out if we could do it ourselves and we quickly figured out that it was a lot to try to do it yourself and we’re not experts in that space so eventually we decided to partner with TerraCycle and they’re really the world’s leader in innovative recycling. (7:42) 
  • How Consumers Can Recycle Their Tevas And What Happens To Them: You go on to teva.com, there’s a place where you can recycle your sandals, and it just takes you through a few easy steps to download a free shipping label. You get that shipping label, pack up your Tevas and send them off and then they actually go directly to TerraCycle’s facility which is handling the cleaning, the sorting, the breaking down and the separating of materials. This is where we can start the circular journey a bit more, if those materials are broken down to the bottoms. The bottoms of our shoes are made out of EBA and rubber, it’s very common in footwear and these can actually be recycled together so they’re ground up and then put into tracks and playgrounds and sport courts. So that’s how they’ll be having a new life. And then, the upper, not quite as cool. They’re going into the carpeting industry, but we all have carpets and rugs, so we’ll see those come back to life again. But as you talked about next steps, circularity is our ultimate goal. We want to create a backwards loop in our supply chain and we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we want to make old Tevas into new Tevas and that is our ultimate goal. (10:18) 
  • Can This Recycling Program Be A Model For The Footwear Industry: We were super lucky in that Teva was born with form and function from our very first Teva, it’s just very simple straps on the upper and a pretty standard bottom and that’s how we make, the majority of our product. We were pretty lucky in that we sent off our samples to TerraCycle and they were like, “Yeah, we can take these apart. They’re recyclable.” And we were kind of shocked because we thought we have a lot more work to do. And that’s definitely where the hiccup comes in footwear is that the way footwear is constructed is just all of these layers and extra materials and glues and adhesives and it makes the product really hard to recycle. So, some things that need to happen to make shoes more recyclable, and we’re actually looking right now at what products we have that aren’t recyclable and how do we make those changes, and the first step is to simplify your product. There are a lot of things that don’t need to be in there. You’ll save money by taking them out and making it simpler and then also just looking at, if your upper is made of all one material then it will be able to be recycled. And if your bottom is made of EBA and rubber, that’s also able to be recycled. But it’s really how those two things are put together and that it needs to be able to come apart so that they’re recyclable in their own waste streams. And that’s definitely the design challenge and in the footwear industry, it’s going to take us back to how shoes used to be made. They used to be cobbled together by a stitch that would be easy to take out and then those pieces came apart. So, we really just need to think about how footwear is being constructed to be able to make things more recyclable and I think that it is accomplishable. But as far as sandals and flip flops, I would say I hope this program inspires all sandal and flip flop manufacturers to start a recycling program because your product is recyclable. (12:14) 
  • The Value Teva Sees From Investing In Sustainability: Sustainability as a whole has been something we kind of started because it was the right thing to do and then our consumers were even more engaged because of it and now our consumers demand it from us. We have a really young consumer base, they’re really active on social media, we thrive in that 18- to 34-year-old space and they want brands to be better and do better and they’re really voting with their dollars. So, what that has done for us at Teva, is it really made us just have to be more transparent. Transparent about what we’re doing, making us more active towards things we might not have thought about until it came up on a social media comment and then we’re having to say “Wow, we need to address that too.” And this has come to life through social issues, through being more transparent about our supply chain. It’s really full circle for us when it comes to our brand values now and our consumers appreciate it. They appreciate when we have a response, when we take action, when we admit fault and then tell them what we are going to do in the future to make that better. And that’s led to a pretty engaged and loyal customer base and these consumers, they are coming back to our brand and they’re telling their friends about the things that we’re doing as well. And we all know that a recommendation from a friend goes much further than almost anything else. So, it’s been great for our brand and also, when you’re working for a company that has those values that align with your values, it makes you want to come to work every day and helps with employee engagement as well as our overall business. So those have been some great strides for us. And then to be honest, the Teva Forever program just is another layer on top of that. It gives us a reason to talk to consumers if they’re wearing our product right now, or if they bought a Teva 10 years ago and it’s sitting in the back of their closet collecting dust because they don’t want to throw it away, it’s a chance for us to re-engage them in the brand. And then last, but certainly not least, is to attract new consumers. Being the first in the space, it’s a way that we’re differentiating ourselves from the competition and consumers want and are demanding this and it’s making them come to Teva as a company that has a solution at the end of life where they’re buying a sandal from somewhere else, currently they don’t have that solution. So, it’s been a way to attract new consumers as well. (15:09) 
  • A Surprising Thing About Sustainably Minded Consumers: They don’t expect you to have an answer to everything, but if you’re reacting to their comment and it’s making you change something in the future, they really appreciate that and we can strive to work toward being something better. (18:42) 
  • What Consumers May Not Know About Teva: Sustainability is a part of who we are. We’re all lovers of the outdoors and we want to preserve the places we play, and sustainability is just a big part of that and the best part about it for me is that you can bring a crazy idea to the table and be like, “Hey, we should start a recycling program.” And instead of the team being like, “You’re crazy.” They’re like, “Yeah, how could we do this? How could we make this better?” (19:27) 

TRANSCRIPTION

Jennifer Wong: Today we have Jess Bensley joining us, a senior product manager at Teva. Welcome, Jess. 

Jennifer: Could you take me through Teva’s sustainability journey? 

Jess: It started about 5 years ago and I really think that around that time was when the footwear industry had a little bit of an awakening that we were having a negative impact on the earth and some brands decided to take action and Teva was one of those. So, we started with packaging. So, if you’re not sure where to start, packaging is a great place. It goes across industries and there’s so much extra of it. So, we did a packaging audit and figured out that we could take all the stuff out that wasn’t needed. So, in shoes, you know, we stuff them, we wrap them, we put tissue paper on them and then put them in a box and then another box and we were able to eliminate a ton of excess there. And by removing that excess and then also switching to recycled materials, we’ve actually saved 348 million gallons of water to the date, which is pretty crazy. 

And in those 5 years, have reduced 4.1 million pounds of packaging. So, those numbers are crazy but that’s what we were able to do by just us doing kind of an internal audit. So that was our first big step and then we really looked at what materials we were [2:00] using the most and where we could make some sustainable updates. So, if you know Teva, we’re really known for our iconic straps, so we use this webbing for almost all of our shoes and decided to start there. So, we converted 100% of our iconic straps to recycled plastic. That took us about 2 years to convert all of it, but in spring of 2020 we were able to launch. We called it Less Plastic, More Freedom and we had converted all of them. 

So, and then that has saved 40 million plastic bottles from landfills. So, we’re making a lot of shoes, so we had the opportunity to make a pretty big impact when we make changes which has been awesome. Then, the kind of third big step was this recycling program, so we launched Teva Forever just in April and it’s the first recycling program for footwear in the outdoor industry. Also, maybe the first sandal recycling program. We haven’t found another one, so we think that those are the first and then we also have a lot of little things that are going on behind the scenes. But those are really some of our biggest accomplishments. 

Jennifer: That’s exciting. And you’ve mentioned some huge progress that you’ve made so far. Did you have sustainability goals set in mind? How did you recognize that this is the impact that you wanted to make with some of these big changes to the way that you package goods or look at new types of materials to source? 

Jess: We started off just swimming in a lot of different directions and I’m sure that’s where sustainability comes into a lot of work. Like, we cared a lot and so we wanted to do a lot but we…packaging felt like a natural one and then looking at products is a natural way [4:00] to get started as well. But as we were trying to tackle all these things and they’re really hard to, you know, get focus and know what to talk about, we landed on three pillars that we really focus on. So, product is the first of those pillars and this includes everything from materials to construction, to efficiencies in our supply chain, and then again, packaging. And then the second one is circularity. So, we have this goal moving toward circularity and this means recycled inputs going into our product, this means taking care of our own waste if it’s at the factory or if it’s at the end of life and then really getting this recycling program off the ground was a great first step. But our ultimate goal is to make new Tevas out of old Tevas and that’s where we want to go with the program, but we have some work to get there as well. And then the third pillar is climate. And this is pretty new to us, but we want to know our greenhouse gas emissions, we want to know our carbon footprint and then we want to see, how can we reduce that and then how can we offset the impact that we are having? So, climate is kind of the new pillar and something you’ll see us working towards even more in the future. 

Jennifer: You are a senior product leader on the team, but obviously so knowledgeable about the sustainability efforts of the organization. How does sustainability fit into your role or across the entire organization at Teva? 

Jess: Yeah, so I mean the product is really kind of ground zero for sustainability. There’s a lot of improvements you can make whether it be, like I said, materials or supply chain or construction, there’s a lot you can do to make improvements. And as a leader in the product organization, I’ve just made this one of my top priorities and I’ve learned a lot being in the industry for a while. I’ve taken some great courses as well to become even [6:00] more knowledgeable. But that’s really helped kind of, set the standards, set the goals for where we’re going as an organization. And our team is just super like-minded, and we challenge each other to do better. Whenever a project is coming up, like, how can we make this less impactful. What materials can we use? Its really kind of a group dynamic to see how we can make the planet a better place. So, it’s great to kind of work on a team where that is super top of mind and it’s a constant conversation. 

We are part of a bigger corporation. So, Deckers Outdoor Corp we’re one of their brands, and they really set the standards as far as what our overarching goals are going to be and then Teva really identifies where these goals kind of align with our values and align with our consumers values. And when we see those two intersect, that is usually a great way to figure out what we should tackle next because as you know, there’s a lot of different things to tackle when it comes to sustainability.

Jennifer: Tell me more about the Teva Forever program. How is it getting Teva closer to your goal of circularity? What are the next steps in that program for you? 

Jess:As you know, it’s a recycling program but even bigger than that, it’s a way for us to engage with our consumers. So, we don’t have the Tevas anymore. They’re out in the world so unless we partner with our consumers to get those back and that’s a great way for us to partner with them [8:00] on a sustainability journey, right? None of us can do this on our own. We all need to do this together and the good news is our consumer really cares. So, they want to make the planet better and they’re actually demanding this from us. So, one very early on kind of vetting this idea of doing a recycling program. We were like, ‘Okay, this is going to be a lot. Let’s touch base with our consumers.’ So, we put out an Instagram survey and then a few this or that’s to click into the story to do a full sustainability survey. And, first off, we had thousands of responses. So, the fact that our consumers took the time to do up close, our sustainability survey, I was like, ‘Wow. They’re super engaged.’ And they told us, 94 percent told us they wanted to recycle their Tevas. So that was a great number that came out of that. And then we also just had like a blank box, where you could just sort of fill in around sustainability and what you wanted to take care about and the number one word that came up was waste. So, they were concerned about our waste and where products were going to be at the end of life and end of life was another word that came up time and time again specifically calling out a recycling program. So, between knowing that those were very high on our consumers radar and they were high on our radar, we knew that we were on the right path. So…then we started vetted possible partners and trying to figure out if we could do it ourselves and we quickly figured out that it was a lot to try to do it yourself and we’re not experts in that space so eventually we decided to partner with TerraCycle and they’re really the world’s leader in innovative recycling. So, what that means [10:00] if they want to find a way to recycle anything and everything. So, it’s been pretty cool to partner with them, and they were able to help you, kind of right off the bat. So, and as you know through visiting the site this morning, I’ll just take you through that journey a little bit. If you want to recycle your Tevas, you go on to teva.com, there’s a place where you can recycle your sandals, and it just takes you through a few easy steps to download a free shipping label. So, you get that shipping label, pack up your Tevas and send them off and then they actually go directly to TerraCycle’s facility so TerraCylce is handing the cleaning, the sorting, the breaking down and the separating of materials. So that’s where we can start the circular journey a bit more, if those materials are broken down to the bottoms. The bottoms of our shoes are made out of EBA and rubber, it’s very common in footwear and these can actually be recycled together so they’re ground up and then put into tracks and playgrounds and sport courts. So that’s how they’ll be having a new life. And then, the upper, not quite as cool. They’re going into the carpeting industry, but we all have carpets and rugs, so we’ll see those come back to life again. But as you talked about next steps, I mean, circularity is our ultimate goal. We want to create a backwards loop in our supply chain and so that’s going to be…we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we want to make old Tevas into new Tevas and that is our ultimate goal. 

Jennifer: That’s great. You make it sound so easy saying, “You know, we sent a survey to our customers, they give us feedback. We found a great partner to help with the end of cycle process.” Why do you think you’re the first and [12:00] the only show company to offer a program like this? Is it something that other companies could adopt, should adopt?

Jess: We were super lucky in that Teva was born with form and function from our very first Teva, it’s just very simple straps on the upper and a pretty standard bottom and that’s how we make, like, the majority of our product and it’s pretty simple. So, we were pretty lucky in that we sent off our samples to TerraCycle and they were like, “Yeah, we can take these apart. They’re recyclable.” And we were kind of shocked because we thought we have a lot more work to do. And that’s definitely where the hiccup comes in footwear is that the way footwear is constructed is just all of these layers and extra materials and glues and adhesives and it makes the product really hard to recycle. So, some things that need to happen to make shoes more recyclable, and we’re actually looking right now at what products we have that aren’t recyclable and how do we make those changes, and the first step is to simplify your product. I mean, there’s a lot of things in there that don’t need to be in there. You’ll save money by taking them out and making it simpler and then also just looking at, if your upper is made of all one material then it will be able to be recycled. And if your bottom is made of EBA and rubber, that’s also able to be recycled. But it’s really how those two things are put together and that it needs to be able to come apart so that they’re recyclable in their own waste streams. And that’s definitely the design challenge and in the footwear industry, it’s going to take us back to how shoes used to be made. You know, they used to be cobbled together by a stitch that would be easy to take out [14:00] and then those pieces came apart. So, we really just need to think about how footwear is being constructed to be able to make things more recyclable and I think that it is accomplishable. I mean, we’re working towards having even more recyclability right now, but as far as sandals and flip flops, I would say I hope this program inspires all sandal and flip flop manufacturers to start a recycling program because your product is recyclable. 

Jennifer: I hope so too. You make it sound so easy. 

Jess: So, we could do that, that part. The rest of the industry I think, will come along but there are some real changes that need to be made to make that happen.

Jennifer: Well, one question that I do have to ask related to this series here, you’ve made so many investments in sustainability, how does this actually impact the business? What value do you see from focusing on sustainability as part of your kind of product innovation? 

Jess: Yeah, for sure. I mean, sustainability as a whole, it’s been something that we kind of started because it was the right thing to do and then our consumers were even more engaged because of it and now our consumers demand it from us. Like, we have a really young consumer base, they’re really active on social media, we thrive in those 18- to 34-year-old space and they want brands to be better and do better and they’re really voting with their dollars. So, what’s that done for us at Teva, is its really made us just have to be more transparent. Transparent about what we’re doing, making us more active towards things we might not have thought about until it came up on a social media comment and then we’re having to, you know, be like, “Wow, we need to address that too.” And this has come to life [16:00] through social issues, through being more transparent about our supply chain. Like, it’s really full circle for us when it comes to our brand values now and our consumers appreciate it. They appreciate when we have a response, when we take action, when we admit fault and then tell them what we are going to do in the future to make that better. And that’s led to like a pretty engaged and loyal customer base and these consumers, they are coming back to our brand and they’re telling their friends about the things that we’re doing as well. And we all know that a recommendation from a friend goes much further than almost anything else. So, it’s been great for our brand and also, when you’re working for a company that has those values that align with your values, it makes you want to come to work every day and helps with employee engagement as well as our overall business. So those have been some like great strides for us. And then to be honest, the Teva Forever program just is another layer on top of that. Like, it gives us a reason to talk to consumers if they’re wearing our product right now, or if they bought a Teva 10 years ago and its sitting in the back of their closet collecting dust because they don’t want to throw it away, it’s a chance for us to like re-engage them in the brand and the best part about that is we get to hear all the crazy stories about the adventures of where their Tevas went and that’s kind of the fun part of all this. So, it’s a great way to re-engage them as well. And then last, but certainly not least, is attract new consumers. I mean, being the first in the space, it’s a way that we’re differentiating ourselves from the competition and consumers want and are demanding this [18:00] and it’s making them come to the Teva as a company that has a solution at the end of life where they’re buying a sandal from somewhere else, currently they don’t have that solution. So, it’s been a way to attract new consumers as well. And then like-minded consumers which we love to have as part of the brand. 

Jennifer: I love how interactive you are with your consumers. Especially just being so open to feedback, like maybe it is a comment on social media but you take it in as feedback to improve and evolve around sustainability because no person or company is perfect around the topic of sustainability. It has to be an evolution. 

Jess: Exactly. And I think that’s something our consumers know. They don’t expect you to have an answer to everything but if you’re reacting to their comment and it’s making you change something in the future, like, they really appreciate that and I think we all know that we’re not perfect, right? But we can strive to work towards being something better. So, yeah, I think that’s pretty cool. 

Jennifer: What is the one thing that everyone should know, one of your consumers buying their next Teva shoe should know about sustainability at the company? 

Jess: Yeah, I would say that one thing is just that it’s a part of who we are. Like, we’re all lovers of the outdoors and we want to preserve the places that we play, and sustainability is just a big part of that and the best part about it for me is that you can bring a crazy idea to the table and be like, “Hey, we should start a recycling program.” And instead of the team being like, “You’re crazy.” They’re like, “Yeah, how could we do this? How could we make this better?” And the team really got together and made this happen and chose to be a part of that next [20:00] stage. You know, super proud of our team and super happy to be a Teva. 

Jennifer Wong
Jennifer is the Head of Sustainability at Convoy, helping transportation leaders make progress against their environmental and social impact goals.